Considering a career in law? Here’s what you need to know…
Is law for me?
The various routes to becoming a lawyer are diverse and take many different forms, depending on whether you go to university, your choice of profession, and the path you decide to take to qualification. In any event, forward planning is always advantageous when it comes to embarking on a legal career, meaning it is never too early to start thinking about which of these routes may be right for you.
Generally, when considering any career, it is often a good idea to work backwards, thinking about your own skills and attributes and how these might in turn be suitable to the skills required for the career at hand.
For example, when weighing up whether a career in law would be right for you, you might want to consider:
● What are your strengths and skills?
● What kind of team would you like to work in?
● What kind of working lifestyle do you want?
Alternatively, if you are just starting to consider whether law is for you, there are a host of introductory resources out there. Here are a few to get you started.
Is law for you? Deciding if you want to study law — by Christopher Stoakes. Having had a wide-ranging City career, including being a partner at a City law firm, Christopher Stoakes explains what a career in law is really like, and what you need to know before studying it at degree level.
Justice — What’s the right thing to do? — by Michael J. Sandel. Harvard University law professor, Michael J. Sandel, embarks on a journey of moral reflection designed to invite readers to think about the key debates within law and justice.
The rule of law — by Tom Bingham. Former Master of the Rolls, Lord Chief Justice, and Senior Law Lord, Tom Bingham, seeks to dissect the true meaning of the rule of law and its place within modern society.
Insights into the bar
In your defence — by Sarah Langford. This takes readers through eleven cases that took place in the criminal and family courts, illuminating a justice system in crisis as a result of overburdened courts and constant funding cuts.
Stories of the law and how it’s broken — by The Secret Barrister. The Secret Barrister aims to expose what it is really like to work within the English justice system. It offers a candid and accessible account of the day-to-day life of a barrister, revealing all of the hidden cracks in the justice system at the same time.
Which A-Levels should I choose?
There are very few formal requirements regarding which A-Levels you need to select if you seek to pursue a career in law. However, some universities prefer that you undertake at least one, if not two, facilitating subjects. Facilitating subjects are the A-Level subjects that some universities have a preference for when giving applicants offers to study on their degree courses.
These subjects include English literature, history, modern languages, classical languages, maths and further maths, physics, biology, chemistry, and geography. Therefore, it is always advisable to check if your chosen universities prefer applicants to take one/two facilitating subjects in advance. This can be done via the module information pages of university websites or through the UCAS website.
Beyond these requirements however, no A-Level choice is a ‘wrong’ choice for a career in law. Almost any combination of subjects is acceptable, so long as you are able to meet the grade requirements for your chosen university. That said, there are A-Level subjects which are often regarded as useful to take if you are wishing to pursue a career in law because they enable you to develop transferable skills which may be relevant to a law degree/an apprenticeship programme here.
A-Level subjects which may complement a legal career include:
English: Both English language and literature A-Level are often thought to complement a career in law because they allow you develop key writing, interpretation and reasoning skills which are essential to argument-style essays as a law student.
History: History is recommended for those seeking to go into law because it teaches students to critically analyse different sources and information — a skill which law students are constantly required to demonstrate.
Politics: Despite not being a facilitating subject, politics can be a useful A-Level to study in advance of a career in law in order to understand the basic underpinnings of the UK legal system. In turn, it often overlaps with constitutional/public law modules on law degrees.
Maths: Whilst a less typical choice, maths is a well-respected A-Level which allows students to develop methodical skillsets. These skills are likely to be beneficial as a law student when seeking to take logical, step-by-step approaches to analysing lines of case law/statutes.
Languages: Language skills are an asset to any career path, and the same is true of a career in law. Language skills are especially sought after within private legal practice, as large international law firms do substantial amounts of cross jurisdictional work.
Law: The usefulness of undertaking law A-Level usually gets a mixed response. While typically a ‘soft subject’, it provides a good outline of the legal system of England and Wales, and often overlaps with some of the initial content on the LLB, especially within criminal law modules. For further discussion on whether to take law at A-Level see our article — Should I study A-Level law if I want to do a law degree?
What can I do alongside my studies?
There are various things which you can be doing alongside your studies on a part-time basis in order to further your understanding of a legal career while gaining valuable experience for your CV.
Work experience organised through your school
Typically, schools offer a two-week work experience placement for students in either year 10 or year 11, although the summer term of year 10 is the most common time for students to undertake this. Depending on the individual school or college, students may then also get the opportunity to undertake further work experience in year 12. This is a great opportunity to highlight your interest in law to your school careers adviser/work experience organiser in order to look into shadowing opportunities at local high street/regional solicitors or barristers’ chambers. Although, bear in mind that some firms/chambers are unable to provide work experience to students under the age of 18.
Work experience organised independently
Increasingly, law firms and chambers are seeking to offer work experience placements for students aged 16-18. For example, firms such as Pinsent Masons, Burges Salmon and Fletchers offer work experience schemes for school students. Some sets also provide similar work experience opportunities for aspiring barristers.
Moreover, firms such as Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner and Eversheds run their own unique diversity work experience schemes for school students, designed to promote access and inclusivity within the legal profession. There are now also a range of virtual work experience programmes offered by a number of firms.
Volunteer work can also be invaluable to undertake alongside your studies. Legal-specific volunteer work can be difficult to come by but reaching out to the local Legal Advice Clinic or Citizens Advice Bureau to see if they have any opportunities is always a good first step.